‘I’m a new-generation judge’

2012-05-12 13:06

The next leader of South Africa’s busiest court is a “new generation judge” who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and has a penchant for drums and bugles.

This is how Labour Court President Dunstan Mlambo described himself to the Judicial Service Commission in his successful interview for the post of North and South Gauteng High Court judge president.

“I’ve always maintained I’m a new generation judge. I do not shy away from dirtying my hands in my judicial work.

“That explains my philosophy when it comes to what a court should be doing,” said Mlambo.

The 52-year-old realises he is “stepping into very big shoes” when he takes over from current Judge President Bernard Ngoepe, who retires in November.

The North and South Gauteng High Courts are by far the two busiest courts in the country and there is only one judge president for both.

The Pretoria court alone receives about 80 000 civil case files a year and enrols about
20 000 civil trial matters.

But Mlambo is likely to go into it with a can-do attitude and the passion for access to justice that has characterised his career.

He won’t tolerate any lawyerly histrionics, either.

Explaining a system of case-flow management by judges, Mlambo told the JSC: “That’s what we do in the Labour Courts. We have matters that are identified where the parties, or the lawyers, are problematic.

“A judge will take a phone and summon both legal representatives to chambers to read them the riot act.”

He said this was the direction he would like to steer the busy North and South Gauteng High Courts in, citing a court he had seen in the US which had twice as heavy a caseload but still assigned the management of case files to judges.

It is a system he’s managed to implement in all South Africa’s Labour Courts.

Mlambo was born in Bushbuckridge, Mpumalanga, and studied law at the University of the North. In 1984, after completing his degree, he took a job as a legal adviser in the now-defunct Ka-Ngwane homeland’s department of justice.

Four years later he became a candidate attorney at Bowman Gilfillan Attorneys, rising to associate partner in five years.

In his CV Mlambo said he had “devoted his practise of law towards the upliftment and protection of people on the ground as a public interest lawyer and trade union lawyer”.

But as a judge, Mlambo has also worn several different robes.

He spent three years as a Labour Court judge and five years in both the South Gauteng High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Mlambo has also spent about a decade as chairperson of Legal Aid SA, which faces the mammoth task of providing legal assistance to those who can’t afford it.

The subject clearly lies close to Mlambo’s heart.

“I want to believe that Legal Aid SA is a shining example of how things should have been done constitutionally in terms of access to justice,” he told the JSC.

“The answer to SA’s poor representation in the courts lies in the salary model.”

Under Mlambo, the number of justice centres in SA has grown from about 20 to 64 this year.

The model has been so successful that the International Criminal Court in the Hague has requested Legal Aid SA’s input in setting up their own in-house defence aid.

The only hiccup in his relatively smooth JSC interview was his six outstanding judgments.

Mlambo called this a valid criticism, but said the “exuberance of youth” had caused him to take on too great a caseload.

There’s also a lighter side to Mlambo’s CV. Between 2001 and 2005, he was a trustee of the Field Band Foundation, a development initiative for marching bands in underprivileged communities.

Mlambo is married, with four kids aged between seven and 21.

Here are your new judges and the courts they’ve been appointed to:

Selby Baqwa Gauteng High Court
Senior counsel Baqwa (61), nominated for appointment by former chief justice Pius Langa, was South Africa’s first public protector.

A graduate of Fort Hare University,he was involved in political trials during the struggle and appeared in a case
that proved the existence of government-sponsored attacks on civilians in the United Democratic Front areas.
He is married with four children.

On the judiciary:
“We’ve got to understand the principle of the separation of powers, but we’ve also got to understand cooperative governance is being called for. The judiciary has got to be seen to further democracy.”

Duncan Dukada Eastern Cape High Court
An attorney and former ANC member, Dukada (58) was one of Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet’s lecturers.

This was in the 80s when he was a senior lecturer and acting head in the department of commercial law
at the University of the Transkei.

Dukada is an admitted notary and conveyancer and has served several stints as an acting judge of the Eastern Cape High Court.

He admits that he was a member of the governing ANC, but says he is no longer active.

On the judiciary: “When you are a judge, you have to apply law impartially without fear or favour and you have to comply with the Constitution.”

Elizabeth Kubushi Gauteng High Court
A former special adviser to the defence ministry, Soweto-born lawyer Kubushi (52) was the first black woman to be appointed as an attorney in Free State.

As provincial chairperson of the Black Lawyers’ Association, she helped compel the Free State Law Society to implement equal representation. It was the first law society in the nation to do so.

Kubushi is divorced and is a mother of five.

On the judiciary: Kubushi told the Judicial Service Commission she would bring a needed sensitivity to gender and racial relations to the bench.

Bulelwa Pakati Northern Cape High Court
Magistrate Pakati (51) started her career in the courts as a translator. She became a magistrate in the former Transkei homeland and has been a prosecutor and control prosecutor.

In 2009, Pakati attended the Fast -Tracking of Women in the Judiciary course and was seconded to a mentorship in the Northern Cape High Court.

Due to the large number of Afrikaans cases in that court, Pakati says she bought herself compact discs to learn the language.

She is divorced, with three children.

On the judiciary: “The ideal judicial officer is the officer who is going to uphold the Constitution and the human rights entrenched in it.”

Xola Petse Supreme Court of Appeal
After completing matric, Judge Petse (57) started his legal career as a clerk inthe department of justice of the Transkei homeland.

Two years later, in 1975, he quit to study law at the University of Fort Hare.

As a lawyer, Petse was involved in representing political activists and was one of the area’s few admitted notaries.

A father of three, he is also chancellor of the Anglican diocese of Mbashe.

On the judiciary: “As has been said in many quarters, the independence of the judiciary is indispensable to the existence and stability of a constitutional state.”

Ronnie Pillay Supreme Court of Appeal
Judge Pillay (60) was on the amnesty committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee where he was involved in amnesty applications in the cases of the Cradock Four, Adriaan Vlok and the Bree Street Bomber.

He told the Judicial Service Commission a moving story about how the families of both the B

ree Street bomb attack and its perpetrator had become family friends.

Pillay, a married father of three, has served as an Electoral Court, Labour Court and an Eastern Cape High Court judge.

On the law: “You must interpret an enactment in line with the purpose for which it was enacted and in line with the Constitution.”

Bashier Vally Gauteng High Court
Senior counsel Vally (52), who was born in central Johannesburg, has been an activist all of his adult life.

He initially studied at the University of the Witwatersrand for a Bachelor of Commerce degree in industrial psychology.

Vally became involved in the Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union of South Africa as an “organiser, negotiator and educator” after his university days, sparking an interest in labour law.

He is married without children.

On the judiciary: “While the judiciary is there to invigilate the performance or constitutional compliance of the other branches, the judiciary must recognise there are important roles to be played by the elected officials.”

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